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How Edtech bridges the gap between learn and play

As we evolve into the Digital Age, digital literacy is paramount for success today. In order for students to become tech whizzes (and capable of evolving alongside technology), we need to start focusing on digital literacy in the classroom.

Education Technology (also known as EdTech) was a proven success when the pandemic started, leaving schools shut and educators forced to somehow facilitate learning through a screen. 

Through hybrid learning, the world looked to EdTech. Virtual learning platforms like Zoom and Google Classroom were used to fill the gap of classroom learning and replicate as closely as possible the traditional classroom experience. Yet we have only begun scratching the surface of what EdTech can do for the learner experience. 

Gamification can make learning fun

As with anything we do in life, learning should be fun. EdTech acts as a bridge for learn and play, and one way it does this is by gamifying learnable concepts. 

Gamification is no way a new concept, in fact it dates back to the 1980s with the emergence of educational software targeting children. At that time, technology was gradually integrating with day-to-day life, and educational softwares were developed to help children and adults adjust to these changes. ‘Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing’ was a typing program released in the 80s that taught touch typing with lessons and games.

Photo from the National Museum of American History

Games are appealing to us for many different reasons, but some common denominators are that it is usually fun, challenging, stimulates healthy competition, with measurable success metrics. These factors keep the user engaged and motivated to keep playing. More importantly for EdTech, users want to keep trying even when they fail or lose.

By introducing the ‘fun’ element to learning, students are more likely to be self-motivated to succeed. A good learning experience is intrinsically motivating, as you are more likely to continue learning for the ‘fun’ or challenging element as opposed to feel pressured or for any tangible reward.

This is what we want from our students. Not to finish a task or take notes for a reward or in fear of punishment, but because they truly want to learn and understand. That’s the hard part; how do we get kids to want to learn?

Agency in learning is key to success

Agency is crucial for learners. This refers to the ability for learners to make independent choices about their learning. Many online games provide the player with agency, such as in open-world sandbox games like Minecraft and Roblox.

Photo by Jelleke Vanooteghem on Unsplash

Agency is important because they feel in charge, in control of what they do or what they achieve. By incorporating this into the classroom, you make learning as much their job as it is yours (as the educator).

The LEGO MINDSTORMS sets are brilliant examples of independent learning. Learners can construct their robot following the instruction manual, but also have the freedom to prototype with different bricks and designs. They then apply coding concepts to create their own program that the robot can run on. Teachers can provide extra challenges like introducing an obstacle course or unique terrain, so students have to go back to the drawing board, enhance their robot design or perhaps change up their code.

This allows students to have a sense of ownership over their learning, and provides the space for creativity and individuality to shine through.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Richard Culatta, CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), said that “the worst way to use technology is to have a kid sit in front of a screen and read content”. Yup, sounds an awful lot like the pandemic years to me. He suggests instead that we use technology as “an active learning tool”, to provide the space for students to learn, problem-solve and collaborate.

As things slowly return to the way they were and students fill up classrooms again, we should not leave virtual-learning tech to the side just as a pandemic contingency plan. Instead, we should look into how technology can serve to enhance learning both in and out of the classroom to truly harness the limitless potentials of EdTech, pandemic or no pandemic.

Header photo by Robo Wunderkind on Unsplash

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